Renowned sculptor Antony Gormley has created an intriguing new piece of public art for the city of London that is also a very secluded place to lay one’s head.
It’s late in the day and the elegant streets and squares of central London are as quiet as they get. In the soft, evening light the hustle and bustle of the metropolis yields to its historic silhouette. Just south of Oxford Street, in Mayfair’s tranquil Brown Hart Gardens, the white facade of an Art Deco palazzo lights up the Victorian quadrangle. In 2014, this elegant neoclassical pile, originally designed as a parking garage by architects Wimperis & Simpson in the 1920s, was thoughtfully reimagined as The Beaumont, a seventy-three-room five-star hotel. This endearing urbanity is presided over by ROOM by Antony Gormley, a three-storey-high anthropomorphic sculpture by the Turner Prize-winning artist. Sitting atop a ready-made plinth on the south-west side of the hotel’s facade, this monumental, cuboid figure is crouched down and contemplative, concealed within the outline of the city.
On entering the foyer of The Beaumont, you experience a moment of enchantment that leaves the quotidian world far behind. The luxe interiors of the hotel are a rousing mix of historical and artistic references executed by Fiona Thompson and John Lewis of Richmond International, in collaboration with Jeremy King, one of the hotel’s proprietors. The Art Deco-inspired spaces are soft and graphic, decorative and architectural. The warm timbers, bronze detailing and contrasting tones create an establishment formality. An eclectic mix of antique and vintage pieces gathered over the years and classic English furniture bring a personal touch to this charming scene. Chris Corbin and Jeremy King of Corbin and King are behind The Beaumont and have a reputation for serving up the most affable of English hospitality. The eponymous duo created some of London’s most famous restaurants, including celebrity haunt The Ivy. In the early 2000s they opened The Wolseley on Piccadilly, a much-loved European-style cafe set within the grandeur of a 1920s Wolseley Motors car showroom. This nous for great hospitality is in the spotlight at The Beaumont with the Colony Grill Room restaurant and The American bar taking centrestage.
ROOM by Antony Gormley arises from a planning requirement to create a public artwork for the new hotel development. The outcome of the commission is both an intriguing piece of contemporary public art for London and a secluded place to lay one’s head. It carries meaning and asks questions (as art does) and provides shelter and retreat (as architecture does). The void within the giant is drawn into the plan of the hotel, creating a discrete bedroom connected to one of the hotel’s commodious suites. This is a functioning artwork that uses the public language of architecture and the very private act of sleeping to explore space, scale and the human body. Gormley’s acclaimed art practice is an ongoing investigation of these relationships. He is perhaps best known for the 1998 work Angel of the North, located at Gateshead in the UK and in 2003 he created INSIDE AUSTRALIA at Lake Ballard in Western Australia’s Goldfields, installing fifty-one metal stick figures across ten square kilometres of the resolutely flat salt plain landscape.
The skin and structure of ROOM by Antony Gormley is formed from large, stacked blocks made from welded plates of stainless steel with contrasting pale and matt finishes. Perhaps this armoury is to protect the figure, to metaphorically protect Gormley’s own body or to remind us of the way the city is shaped by our collective existence. By contrast the interior, entered through the Art Deco-inspired suite’s white marble bathroom, is a place of deep retreat, singular and a little monastic. There’s a touch of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe fantasy as you climb the seven stairs and pass through the thick black curtain into the dark fumed oak-clad bed chamber, which measures just four by four metres and a breathtaking ten metres high. You drift off to sleep in total blackness, the unadorned white bed appearing to levitate in the space. Gormley says that “the very subliminal levels of light allow [him] to sculpt darkness itself.” The experience is entirely transcendental and compels imagination. The oculus window overhead (cutting through the figure’s navel) welcomes the light of the new day, revealing only the infinite sky beyond.
ROOM by Antony Gormley is the guardian angel for The Beaumont, the city and the people who inhabit it. This is a work that provocatively transcends traditional definitions of art and architecture (and creates a truly unique hotel experience).